Lunchbox Cookies

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Oh, the start of a new school year.  The smell of freshly sharpened pencils and PeeChee folders. New classes.  New teachers.  New friends. And most importantly (at least for me), new school clothes.

And then there is school lunch.  If I’d planned a little better, I could have and should have put together some research and thoughtful commentary on the subject.  As a former K-14 consultant, I’ve seen a lot of bad and ugly when it comes to school cafeterias and am very interested in the politics of what our youth eat for lunch.   Especially in Los Angeles.

Alas, I made vanilla sugar instead. But, more on that later.

I was one of those kids whose mom made her lunch with homemade cookies and sandwiches with real cheese on whole wheat bread.  And I didn’t appreciate it one bit.  Sorry mom.  All I wanted when I was a kid were Chips Ahoy cookies and white Wonder Bread.  My brother and I also shared a strange fascination with Twinkies, in our household, the most forbidden fruit of them all.

And now I’d give anything to have someone, anyone, make me a brown bag lunch with real cheese, good bread and a homemade cookie.  Yeah, yeah…youth wasted on the young and all that.

So, in this spirit, I’ve got a cookie to share with you.  And, I think it would make a pretty perfect addition to anyone’s lunchbox or after-school snack.  The recipe is simple, needs no refrigeration ahead of time and with a couple of little details can go from great to fantastic.

Here is detail number one: vanilla sugar.  Now, if you happen to be rolling in dough (the green kind), you can buy vanilla sugar at specialty stores.  However, if you are just a little patient, you can also make it very easily.  Here is how.  You know the hull from a vanilla bean?  That thing that is left after you scrape-out the seeds?  Just add it to a couple of cups of granulated or superfine sugar.  And then wait a week or two.  The result will be extra special sugar with a slight vanilla taste and pronounced vanilla aroma. Perfect for simple recipes like this one.  I make vanilla sugar every time I use a vanilla bean.  It makes me feel a little less guilty about having to dip into my retirement whenever I buy a jar of vanilla beans.

Now for detail number two: better butter.  Good ingredients always make a difference but I have an admission to make.  If the recipe has lots of other stronger flavors, I usually just buy whatever unsalted butter is on sale.  However, like the vanilla sugar, when you have a recipe with simple ingredients, you want them to be good.

The special butter and special sugar get a really good beating.  Then an egg is added.

And finally, sour cream and flour are folded-in.

The dough will be stiff but soft.

Scoop the dough onto lined-baking sheets.  Add some sugar or sanding crystals if you’d like.  And there you go.

Just like starting fourth grade all over again.

What?  I missed a week?  You noticed?  Okay, here is the deal on last week’s post.  It’s written but needs some revising.  It’s about a food item that I happen to have lots of stories about and I can’t quite seem to pick one.  We’ll get there though.

Vanilla Sugar

  • 1 Vanilla bean, devoid of seeds (this is code for used vanilla bean)
  • 2 C granulated sugar (superfine will work too)

Combine ingredients and store in a sealed container or heavy ziplock bag.

Special Sugar Cookies

adapted from Everyday Food, 2007


  • 2 C all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 8 TBS unsalted butter, room temp
  • 1 1/2 C sugar (or vanilla sugar) plus some for sprinkling
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 C sour cream


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, place one rack in upper third of oven, one in lower third.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Using a standing mixer or electric hand-mixer, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy (I let it run at least 5 minutes).  Add-in egg and vanilla, beat to combine.
  4. With mixer on low, add in flour and sour cream beginning with half of the flour and alternating.  Mix until just combined.
  5. Drop  mounds of dough (I used a 1/8 C scoop but go smaller or larger as desired, just remember to adjust cooking time) onto baking sheets leaving 3 inches in between each.  Sprinkle with sugar.  Bake until edges of cookies are firm and bottoms are slightly browned (10-15 minutes for 1/8C size).
  6. Transfer to rack to cool.

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